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Blood-stained clothes, missing hiker's ID found

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  • NEW: Warrant: Suspect tried to clean his van with a bleach-and-water solution
  • Investigators find wallet with woman's driver's license and student ID
  • Gary Michael Hilton charged with kidnapping with intent to cause bodily injury
  • Search for Meredith Emerson no longer considered a rescue effort
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From Reggie Aqui
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BLAIRSVILLE, Georgia (CNN) -- Investigators found IDs belonging to missing hiker Meredith Emerson along with blood-stained clothes, leading authorities to charge Gary Michael Hilton with kidnapping with intent to cause bodily injury, according to a criminal warrant filed Saturday.

Hilton, 61, was the last person seen with Emerson, a 24-year-old University of Georgia grad and tae kwon do expert who disappeared from Blood Mountain in north Georgia on New Year's Day.

The items were found in a trash bin of a convenience store next to the grocery store where Emerson's dog was found wandering around in the parking lot Friday about 50 miles from where she disappeared.

"The clothing was found to contain substantial amounts of human blood," the warrant says.

The clothing is consistent with the type Emerson was believed to wear, the warrant said.

The items found include a black leather wallet that contained Emerson's Georgia driver's license and student ID from the University of Georgia.

Agents with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation also recovered a portion of a seat belt with "apparent blood transfer stains as well," according to the warrant.

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Hilton made a phone call from a pay phone at the same convenience store Friday, the warrant also alleges.

Hilton was arrested later Friday at a different convenience store in metro Atlanta. When his 2001 minivan was searched, agents "determined that the rear seat belt had been cut out," according to the warrant.

"Hilton was attempting to vacuum the vehicle and wash portions of it with a bleach and water solution," the warrant says.

It also alleges that Hilton attempted to use one of Emerson's credit cards at a Regions Bank branch in Canton, Georgia.

Hilton arrived at the Union County jail dressed in an orange prison jumpsuit late Saturday. He did not make any comments to reporters as he was whisked into the facility.

Earlier, GBI spokesman John Bankhead said "a lot of evidence has been recovered" in the case, including some Saturday during extensive searches.

"There is considerable evidence based on the information that we received from the public," Bankhead said at a news conference from the mountain where Emerson disappeared. Video Watch Bankhead talk about the "public input" »

Bankhead also said the search was no longer a rescue effort: "This is a search and recovery effort."

Search volunteers and Emerson's friends who had gathered for the news conference hugged and cried at the news.

Emerson's godmother, Peggy Bailey, said family members had conflicting emotions about Hilton's capture.

"We wanted to find this guy. We thought he would have answers for us," Bailey told CNN. "But it's also scary because that means we're on a road to finding something we don't know what that something is going to be."

Seventeen search teams on Saturday combed a five-mile radius of the mountain, searching for any signs of Emerson. Authorities earlier this week had been searching a 400-square-mile area of the forest.

By late Saturday afternoon, Bankhead said a Superior Court judge in Union County signed an arrest warrant for Hilton on the kidnapping with intent to cause bodily injury charge.

Hilton was taken into custody at about 8 p.m. Friday at a convenience store in north DeKalb County in suburban Atlanta after police spotted his white van in the parking lot.

DeKalb County police information officer Mekka Parish said police received two 911 calls about 7:40 p.m. saying a man fitting Hilton's description was at a Chevron gas station in northern DeKalb County.

Hours earlier, Ella -- Emerson's black Labrador mix that had been with her as she hiked through the north Georgia mountains -- was found in the parking lot of a Kroger grocery store.

The animal was positively identified through an implanted microchip.


Earlier this week, authorities found two water bottles, a police-style baton, a dog leash and dog treats near the trail where Emerson and Hilton were seen talking. Hilton was known to carry a similar-style baton when he hiked the Appalachian Trail, authorities said. Video Watch as roommate describes Emerson »

Anyone with information on the case has been urged to call authorities at (706) 439-6066. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

CNN's Marylynn Ryan and Michael Phelan contributed to this report.

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